Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Magritte's Smile


Rene Magritte is probably rarely named as one’s favorite artist. And he hasn’t been mine, either. But I should say that my opinion of him and his work went miles up after visiting Museum Magritte in Brussels.

The story of his life, even though it lacked the drama and largesse of, say, van Gogh or Picasso, was still full of inner struggle and artistic anxiety. And it was life entirely devoted to art, as hundreds of tiny strange photos, sketches and documents prove beyond any doubt.

Magritte came to fine art from the field of advertising and poster design (and he regularly retreated back whenever the money was tight). His paintings, therefore, often give impression of strange posters, created for no other reason than to announce something unsettling: a sign to stimulate one’s mind and imagination.

For me, this was the experience with a small painting from his “impressionist period” of the 1940s, entitled simply, The Smile.  It is a simple – a little kitschy – depiction of a stone plaque with the carved date: Year 192370.

In our design field we often talk about the future, about the world in 2030 or 2050. Some really far-fetching future experts can venture into the year 2100 or maybe even 2500. I think, only once I read some science fiction, which took place around the Year 7000. It was pretty weird stuff already.  But 192370?  In geological terms, the world is still likely to exist, in one way or the other. But what will become of us? Are we all going to be just one brain?  Will love, nature, culture still exist? Will there still be MoMA? New York City? The United States? It goes from there...

I am not sure if these rambling thoughts were something Magritte intended with his work. Perhaps, his title says it all. Faced with the eternity, all we can do is smile.

2 Comments:
Blogger Matt Warren said...

I love stuff like this. It puts me in mind of the thinking over at longnow.org, where they dare us to think in terms of 10,000 years. :) You might like it.

Anyway, thanks for bringing this artist to my attention. I enjoyed your reflections.

August 2, 2011 at 3:13 PM  
Blogger RWordplay said...

Mr. Magritte came into my life in high school in the company of Messrs. Escher, Dali and others who gave visual forms to their dreams and nightmares. What joys they produced, impossible puns, formulations and paradox, all perfect at a time when one wanted to do little else than "open the doors of perception."

We bought books that reproduced their work, tacked posters and post cards to our worlds. As we swore a collective oath to repudiate our parents dreams and nightmares, Magritte et al became our notorious uncles. (Just as de Sade and others would in our literary acts of insubordination.)

Of course, the only future that concerned us was the immediate one...sometime no further than the approach of evening. Our early experiences with hash, and soon afterwards, acid, MDA, magic mushrooms and the occasional opium pipe, confirmed the parallel realities represented by Magritte et al. Which is to say all spatial and temporal concerns were ultimately distractions on the way to other, more nuanced realities.

Now, middle-aged, I feel closer to 192370 than to 2012. In any case, both are unimaginably distant points in time.

August 2, 2011 at 3:16 PM  

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